Montgomery Starts Sex-Ed Pilot Program

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A health teacher at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring spoke to eighth-graders yesterday about sexual orientation. And so began a pilot program in Montgomery County schools that delves deeper into issues of sexual and gender identity than most other school systems in the Washington region, if not the nation.

The field test, which will start in five other schools by the end of the month and -- barring legal intervention -- the rest of the county in fall, marks the first time Montgomery teachers have broached homosexuality as a part of the official lesson plan in eighth- and 10th-grade health classes.

About 30 students attended the first session yesterday. Teacher Katie Becker held to a rigid script because of legal concerns. She read, "Today, we will look at behaviors that can have an effect on relationships, including stereotyping based on human sexuality."

Students also studied a "word tree" that showed the effect of derogatory remarks such as "You walk like a girl." And they were asked in a homework assignment to "describe a school where there is empathy, tolerance and respect."

Luke Stocky, 14, found the class relatively dull.

"Our teacher, Mrs. Becker, she read straight from the manual," he said. "It was very strict. Like, you couldn't ask questions."

More than 60 Argyle students will receive the new sex-education lessons this week, said Carol Boyd, president of the school's PTSA. The lessons, which require parental permission for students to take, are taught to two classes on alternating days and raise the topic of sexual orientation at grade 8 in a discussion that centers on tolerance, stereotyping and harassment. Grade 10 lessons define the terms in greater depth as part of a frank discussion about the search for sexual identity. These are the lessons that have stirred most of the rancor.

The effort to introduce sexual orientation in the county's schools began in 2002, and a determined opposition group has battled the Board of Education at every step. A federal judge halted a version of the sex-ed curriculum in May 2005, days before a field test was to begin.

Opponents of the curriculum mounted a similar campaign this time, petitioning the Maryland State Board of Education to intervene. But the panel did not rule in time to stop the first field test.

Opposition leaders accused county school officials of deliberately speeding the launch to circumvent the legal challenge. "We're dealing with people in the school system here who want to do things on the sly," said Michelle Turner, vice president of the central opposition group, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC). "We expected an answer or reply from the state board a week and a half ago. We don't understand what the delay is. We haven't received an explanation."

School system officials said they are on schedule. The pilot lessons began exactly two weeks after Feb. 20, the day the school held an information meeting for an audience of four concerned Argyle parents. A well-circulated timetable for the field test said schools could begin the lessons two weeks after their parent meetings.

"The process is moving forward just as it's supposed to," said Jim Kennedy, co-founder of supporters group "It shouldn't have been such a big fight in the first place."

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